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When the air warms and the fish bite, Minnesotans head north as surely as the loons we all hope to see once we arrive. And like those state birds, we generally follow the same path our parents did before us, though we sometimes stray off course to find our own beloved North Woods spot. And so, family tradition lives on, even as it evolves.
We call it Up North or The Lake or The Lodge. The name isn't as important as the purpose. We go to cast a line, to strap on water skis, to sip morning coffee on the shoreline (while those loons coo). Details may differ from family to family, but the same instincts unite us all: leaving work behind, coming together as families, plunging into vacation -- and the bracing water of the lake.
There seem to be as many resorts in the state as lakes. Given the bounty, we asked our readers to share their favorites, the places that draw them just as surely as wet skin attracts beach sand. The results could fill several summers of fun.
Details: 12 cabins and 55 campsites (45 are occupied year-round; 10 available for reservation) on Lake Shamineau, 26 miles south of Brainerd (www.augerspineview.com; 1-888-705-5253; 1-218-575-2100).
Rave: "Beginning in August 1997, my husband and I have hosted a family gathering at Auger's Resort ... The grandchildren, some of whom were 5 years old when they came to Auger's for first time, are now in college and they still treasure coming to Auger's. [The owners] converted a large building with windows facing the lake known as the arcade into a Family Reunion Center. Then they built an attractive log house to house the arcade on the first floor and a loft apartment on the second level. They also took down two cabins and replaced them with side-by-side cabins with A/C, larger sleeping accommodations, and kitchen/eating areas. But they kept the 'Tin Can,' a three-bedroom mobile home which our high school- and college-age grandchildren have stamped as theirs because they can stay up until 2 a.m. (or later) and sleep until noon. ... The first summer we were there, we celebrated the marriage of one of our five daughters. I brought used bridesmaid dresses with me and a wedding dress. The women put them on, jumped into the lake, and then went down the long red slide, Auger's signature beach fixture."
RUTH BARTLING, MINNEAPOLIS
Details: Eleven cabins and seven rooms on Agate Lake in Nisswa (www.birchbaygolfresort.com; 1-800-450-4481; 1-218-963-4488).
Rave: "Our favorite resort is a little mom-and-pop golf resort. ... Out your cabin door to the right is a great little nine-hole golf course. Out the door to the left is a wonderful sand beach perfect for kids. We'd been going to this resort for over 18 years. After a few years' lapse -- time for kids to go to college, get married and have families of their own -- we are all congregating back at Birch Bay this June. We can't wait."
MARY OTT, WILLMAR, MINN.
Details: 133 units, from guest rooms to townhouses, on Lake Superior, 80 miles northeast of Duluth (www.bluefinbay.com; 1-800-258-3346; 1-218-663-7296).
Rave: "Our favorite family resort, and the one we keep going back to time and time again, is Bluefin Bay. ... The drive to the North Shore, always with a stop in Duluth for lunch, is part of the adventure. ... There are always activities planned for the kids, including local hiking adventures."
SHELBY KOHNER, MINNETRISTA
Details: 28 cabins on Two Inlets Lake, 15 miles northwest of Park Rapids (www.brookside-resort.com; 1-800-247-1615; 1-218-732-4093).
Rave: "At least 35 years ago, our family and my husband's sister's family would travel two weeks every year to two different locations looking for the perfect resort. When we found Brookside, we quit looking any further. ... Several years ago the grandchildren were old enough and we started back. ... I'm not sure if it is the indoor/outdoor pool, the soda fountain and ice cream counter, the game room, the water activities or just the freedom to run from one event to the other that captivates them. ... They like it better than Mexico."
MARY ANN JOHNSON, DELANO
Details: 30 units, from cottages to lodge suites, on Lake Koronis in Paynesville, 35 miles west of St. Cloud. (www.bugbeehiveresort.com; 1-320-243-4448).
Rave: "Our absolutely, without a doubt, very favorite Minnesota summer resort is Bug-Bee Hive Resort, which is in central Minnesota. ... My husband and I started going there to get away from it all down here, and to be somewhat near our hometowns (Melrose and Greenwald, Minn.). We eventually had children and they LOVE our summer vacation at Bug-Bee Hive. There is something for everyone to do there, old and young alike. They have cabins and duplexes that are beautifully furnished. They have a lodge and retreat center with a swimming pool and hot tub, and Internet cafe. There are daily activities planned for the kids. We have met such wonderful families who return there the same week as us each year."
SARAH NIETFELD, LAKEVILLE
Details: 13 cabins on Medicine Lake, 20 miles north of Bemidji (www.crlodge.com; 1-800-233-8562; 1-218-243-2487).
Rave: "CRL is the only resort on Medicine Lake, so the resort is quiet, safe and away from the hustle and bustle of other vacation spots. ... We started going there before some of our children were born, then brought them there as babies, and now they're coming with their friends and spouses. ... Once you find the perfect resort, you never give up your spot. And for our family, Cedar Rapids Lodge is that perfect spot."
JULIE FLICEK HALVORSON, MADELIA, MINN.
Details: 47 lodge rooms and 25 cottages on Lake Superior, 50 miles northeast of Duluth (www.covepointlodge.com; 1-800-598-3221; 1-218-226-3221).
Rave: "You don't have to be Norwegian to enjoy Cove Point Lodge or the Norwegian complimentary breakfast! ... All rooms face the Big Lake. There is North Woods decorating with a big stone fireplace in the lobby. ... It is in a central location on Hwy. 61, so you can easily take side trips to Ely, Grand Marais, Duluth, Lutsen and others."
JOANNE BERG, BROOKLYN CENTER
Details: 13 cabins on Lake Florida, 6 miles west of Spicer and 10 miles north of Willmar in the Little Crow Lakes Area (www.dickersonsresort.com; 1-320-354-4272).
Rave: "The beach is beautiful and runs in front of all but three cabins. The cabins are immaculate and kept up-to-date. Lake Florida is a quiet lake and sitting on your private deck you can hear the loons. ... There are a number of beach toys, lake toys, swing sets, and bikes available and free for use by the guests of the resort. [The owners] go out of their way to make you feel at home, including homemade donuts on Sunday morning, a pizza party Monday night and a hayride for the kids. No child catches a fish without having their picture taken for the wall of honor in the resort store."
TAMI RILEY, REDWOOD FALLS, MINN.
Details: 16 lodging options, from a four-bedroom cottage to townhouse studios, on Lake Geneva 2 miles from downtown Alexandria (www.genevabeachresort.com; 1-320-763-3200; 1-877-891-3200).
Rave: "We've been coming to Geneva Beach since 1992 after several resorts had been sold and turned into private property over the years. It's a great place for the kids to hang out and play on the beach, the water trampoline, or play volleyball, play ball in the big yard, or just relax and enjoy the atmosphere. It's right on the bike trail so it's easy to go walking, biking or running."
DON BECKER, SIOUX FALLS, S.D
Details: 23 cabins on Gunflint Lake, 43 miles northwest of Grand Marais (www.gunflint.com; 1-800-328-3325; 1-218-388-2294).
Rave: "I went for the first time in 1999 with a friend to one of their Women's Weekend getaway packages, and have made the trip with friends and family at various times of the year. One year in particular stands out; it was the first year I took my son. We went for a weekend at the end of May, and he was 8 years old. I wanted to get him to appreciate, and hopefully love, the outdoors and nature. We had a sunny weekend. ... We went horseback riding, fed ducks, threw rocks, canoed, took a pontoon ride and hike to Bridal Falls and joined naturalist-guided activities over the three-day weekend. I even hired a half-day fishing guide that provided a fantastic adventure, complete with poles and bait for four hours on the lakes. ... We saw beavers and loons on the lake while fishing, and the day was 70 degrees and full of sun. On the morning of our Sunday departure I told my son that we would head down to breakfast and start our trip home. All of a sudden, tears welled up in his eyes and he started to cry. He said, 'I don't want to go home.'"
MELODY WEST, MINNEAPOLIS
Details: 13 cabins between two bodies of water, Gull Lake and Lost Lake, 17 miles northwest of Brainerd (www.lostlake.com; 1-800-450-2681; 1-218-963-2681).
Rave: "The lodge is nestled in a wooded area -- on one side is the small Lost Lake, and on the other side is the larger lake, Gull Lake. It is an all-inclusive, full-service resort. We go to relax on our porch or in front of our fireplace in our cabin, or enjoy many activities such as canoeing, kayaking, playing on the giant water 'hotdog' ... shuffleboard and ping-pong. It is a worry-free atmosphere for kids. The food is really outstanding. We are served a breakfast and evening meal by friendly servers."
JEAN WYATT, SAVAGE
Details: 170 units, including lodge rooms, cabins, condos and townhouses, on Lake Superior, 90 miles northeast of Duluth (www.lutsenresort.com; 1-800-258-8736; 1-218-663-7212).
Rave: "Lutsen's totem-style sign off Hwy. 61 tempts you ... when you make the drive down the hill and see the big red lodge resting in a protected cove on Lake Superior, you are charmed. We were made welcome inside the gracious lodge that became ours, from the hand-hewn mantel over the fireplace to the cedar-scented paneling of the upstairs rooms. ... One of the first things we do after the long drive is to cross the covered bridge to take the trail along the Poplar River to see the waterfall. ... Eating in the dining room, we anticipate the raisin rye bread and Swedish pancakes, but mostly the view out the small-paned windows."
DEBRA PALMQUIST, PLYMOUTH
Details: 17 cabins on Big Mantrap Lake, 10 miles north of Park Rapids (www.mantraplodge.com; 1-800-424-0901; 1-218-732-5405).
Rave: "When we went to our cabin, there was a dog there to greet us. It belonged to the owners of the lodge. ... When we went fishing one day, we saw an eagle's nest with an eagle in it. The same day we saw a loon and my brother tried to talk to it. We had a tractor race and the tractor we were in won! After the race, we had s'mores. ... One morning they had kids' minnow races. ... I named mine Speedy. Even though I lost, I had a fun time."
MITCHELL HEILMAN (10 YEARS OLD), Shoreview
Details: 11 cabins and eight lodge rooms on Elephant Lake, 60 miles north of Virginia (www.melgeorges.com; 1-800-205-9001; 1-218-374-3621).
Rave: "Cut out of the beautiful forest near Voyageurs National Park, Melgeorges is ... formerly a logging camp in its third generation of Mom and Pop proprietors. The lake is large enough for skiing yet small enough for a great canoe ride around beautiful Buzzard Island, in the middle of it. The lodging ... was all constructed by the family and ranges from quaint older dwellings to brand new log cabins large enough to accommodate the whole family. ... My visits to Melgeorges defined the phrase 'Summer Vacation.' Biking on the logging trails, hiking the wilderness, fishing and canoeing are what I've always envisioned a summer vacation should be. Having moved here 15 years ago from Colorado I wondered what 'going Up North' meant. Now I know."
BRAD G. BRIDWELL, MINNEAPOLIS
Details: 24 rooms with no television, phones or Internet in the historic lodge on Lake Superior, 15 miles north of Grand Marais (www.naniboujou.com; 1-218-387-2688).
Rave: "Some destinations lose their charm after a few visits. Familiarity takes away the luster. Our favorite Minnesota getaway has the opposite effect. Its familiarity draws us back each year. Who wouldn't want to repeat waking to the sound of Lake Superior's waves on a magnificent beach? You can start your day right outside the lodge with the hike up the Brule River to the mysterious Devil's Kettle, where half the river is swallowed by a large opening in the rock, rumored to have no bottom. ... The beauty of the lodge and the majesty of the lake combine to refresh and invigorate."
LARRY AND SUSIE VOELLER, ROSEVILLE
Details: 21 cabins on Potato Lake, 6 miles north of Park Rapids (www.northernpinelodge.com; 1-218-732-5103).
Rave: "Staying at Northern Pine Lodge is like stepping back in time. It is the classic old-school Minnesota lake cabin resort with modest but clean and comfortable cabins on one of the best lakes in the state. The resort itself sits on a sort of dead-end peninsula of Potato Lake with no noise or through-traffic of any kind. It has a super-safe swim beach, paddleboats, kayaks, bicycles, mini-golf, an old clay tennis court, docks for fishing and several rowboats for rent. The heart of the resort is a beautiful 100-year-old log building with pool tables, just enough arcade games and an impressive stone fireplace for those rare chilly mornings. There is also a log sauna building. ... Every day at a certain time, an old school bell rings and kids run from all over the resort to take part in that day's special activity. ... In the evenings, there are family-centered activities like Bingo Night and Movie Night in the lodge. It truly is an idyllic place."
AMY HAGEN, ST. PAUL
Details: 11 lakeside cabins on Moose Lake, 26 miles east of Bemidji (www.paradiseresort.com; 1-218-835-6514; 1-800-845-9124).
Rave: "We discovered this gem of a resort about 7 years ago. Wow, the grounds are immaculate ... the cabins are right on the water, and everyone has a private dock and fire pit ... our grandkids love all the kids' activities, the fishing, the lodge with its great food. ... All we can say is, if you haven't stayed here before, you're missing out on a quiet little gem."
KIM WAGNER, FARGO
Details: 25 cottages, including five large "reunion" cabins, and 24 rooms on Lake Minnewaska, 17 miles southwest of Alexandria (www.petersresort.com; 1-800-356-8654; 1-320-634-4501).
Rave: "It all started over 20 years ago when my mom called me and asked what I thought about them giving all of their adult children and families a long weekend at a resort instead of another sweater, and our family tradition began. Peter's Sunset Beach Resort ... has been our favorite part of June every year. ... Peter's offers an unbelievably beautiful golf course. ... There's the beach with great inflatables in the water for the kids (all ages) to enjoy, tennis courts, shuffleboard and a clubhouse where we play pool."
JULIE O'SHAUGHNESSY, BURNSVILLE
Details: 186 units, from lodge rooms, cottages, condominiums and new villas, on Bay Lake, 20 miles east of Brainerd. (www.ruttgers.com; 1-218-678-2885; 1-800-450-4545).
Rave: "We like it because the food is great, the food cost is included in our lodging and they have a good variety of things to do at the resort. We like to take walks on the paths around the pond on the 18-hole course, golf for free on the nine-hole course, play tennis, practice putting on the putting green, swim at the beach and pool, and have coffee and ice cream at the little shop."
ANN MCGOWAN, MINNEAPOLIS
Details: Eight cabins and eight campsites on Hardy Lake, just west of Brainerd (www.shadyhollowresort.com; 1-218-828-9308; 1-800-450-9308).
Rave: "Shady Hollow has been a wonderful getaway for several summers. I have three grandsons, now 16, 15 and 12, and they still look forward to going to our own little resort with just a few cabins and easy access to a small lake where they can kayak, fish, swim, motor or just play in the sand."
PATRICIA BANWART, WEST BEND, IOWA
Details: 103 units, from cabins to lodge units, on aqua-colored Sugar Lake, southwest of Grand Rapids. (www.sugarlakelodge.com; 1-800-450-4555 or 1-218-327-1462).
Rave: "I've been bringing a golf group up to Sugar Lake Lodge for the last six years to play golf on Sugarbrooke Golf Course. This resort and golf course are perfect for a family vacation or a weekend golf getaway. The golf course is beautiful, the resort grounds and lodging are perfect and the food ... is always excellent. ... One particular memory that stands out is when a few of our group members got a little excited from a great round of golf (and a few adult beverages) and decided to take a swim in beautiful Sugar Lake (right off the 18th green), with their golf clothes still on."
MATT SANNES, WACONIA
Details: Six cabins on Echo Lake near Voyageurs National Park, 60 miles north of Virginia (www.timberwolfpoint.com; 1-218-993-2310).
Rave: "For my money, the best 'Minnesota Getaway' is this a rustic little resort on the Echo Trail. One of only two resorts on Echo Lake, this is 'mom and pop' in the truest sense of the phrase. ... [The owners] provide clean cabins at very reasonable prices with all the necessities, boat rentals, boat docking if you bring your own, free canoes to registered guests, all with a friendliness and personal interest that is all too rare these days. Echo Lake itself offers great fishing. ... Bring your camera as well as your fishing gear; wildlife is abundant with deer, moose, otter, beaver, eagles and the occasional bear. There's a phrase at the top of the resort's Web page that says it all: 'We don't have to get back to nature. We never left.'"
BILL PREPODNIK, OWATONNA, MINN.
Details: 13 cabins on Two Inlets Lake in Park Rapids (www.twoinlets.com; 1-800-843-7453; 1-218-732-5434).
Raves: "Our family has been multi-generational vacationing at Two Inlets Resort near Park Rapids for the last eight years. The resort has a back-to-basics feel that helps us to unplug from a busy life. ... One of our favorite memories is when we accidentally caught a turtle instead of an intended fish. My niece named it Mr. Incredible, and we donated him to the resort's turtle pond and the kids visited him every day of our vacation."
LISA BAKKE, ANKENY, IOWA
Details: 19 cabins on Lake Vermilion, on the spillway where the lake forms Vermilion River, 22 miles north of Cook (www.vdl.com; 1-800-325-5780; 1-218-666-5418).
Rave: "The smell of pine trees captivates my senses ... pine fresh room spray has nothing on the real thing. ... Hiking along the dam trail is such an adventure. The rocks and the constant rushing water are refreshing and gorgeous. ... The swimming pool and the top of the dam were Mom's favorite spots. ... Hiking, swimming, rock climbing, dam walking, fishing, paddleboating, pontoon rides with picnics on the bay. A walking trip to the DNR tower was incredible. ... For my dad, well, we hardly saw him during the day. He went out fishing early mornings, then came home for lunch, napped and went right back out again in the afternoon."
BECKY LIETZAU, ROCKFORD